Mozart’s colossal Idomeneo, first heard on January 29, 1781 in Munich, is an opera with a history of “re-visitations” stretching back to the days of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari and Richard Strauss. This Saturday night, January 26, Pittsburgh Opera will present the first of four performances of afterWARds, a work in which Director David Paul uses the words and music of Mozart in a reorganized, condensed version that “shifts the opera’s focus towards its four protagonists and their timeless struggles for love and peace in a world full of carnage and destruction.” One of the interesting features of the production will be the chance to hear tenor Terrence Chin-Loy, a first-year Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist, who made his company debut in 2017’s The Summer King, in a more substantial role. His familiarity with Mozart’s music dates to his childhood.
“Opera came to me when I was 11 years old, when I was a member of the Florida Singing Sons Boy Choir,” he shared with us recently. “Florida Grand Opera needed youngsters for Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute,’ and they came to us looking for boys to play the three ‘Child Spirits.’ I had the opportunity to play the ‘Third Spirit’ in that production, and it was my first introduction into the world of opera.
“I remember we were practicing our music for the first rehearsal, and my friend found a recording of the Queen of the Night’s revenge aria, and he played it for me. It was the first time I’d ever heard those sounds – that kind of operatic singing, and I was really taken by it. And the first time I was in rehearsal hearing people make sounds like that, I knew it was kind of my jam. And around then, YouTube was the thing, and I started listening to other operatic performances and other opera singers. When my voice changed, I started taking lessons with my choir director.
“I think this is some of Mozart’s best music. People are usually familiar with his great works, like ‘Magic Flute,’ ‘Le nozze di Figaro,’ ‘Così fan tutte,’ and ‘Don Giovanni,’ especially. But ‘Idomeneo’ is Mozart’s first masterpiece, I would say. And the score really lends itself to seeing the characters through music. I think it’s really significant in the history of opera musically but also dramatically. As audience members, I think people will be very moved by the music and by the kind of world we’ve created here.
“Rehearsals have been going very well. David Paul works in a very intense and particular way, but it really allows us the space to draw out the characters – all their essences really well. I think in a 75-minute opera you don’t have much time to learn about who these characters are, so as soon as you see this person and they sing their first page of music, the audience really needs to know who these people are to be invested in what happens in the rest of the story. We’re really working on trying to find truth in all of the moments that you see on stage, because, again, you don’t have much time to learn who these people are and to get acquainted with them. So we’re really trying to give you a great sense of who we are as soon as the actions gets rolling.”
“afterWARds is an opera about the emotional battles that continue to rage after ‘war’ is long over,” Mr. Paul, the director, has stated. “It’s an opera about displaced refugees and the lingering, post-traumatic effects of war. But most of all, it’s an opera about love, healing, and the resilience of the human spirit. It uses the words and music of Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo,’ perhaps his most radical, modern opera, in a reorganized and distilled format. It shifts the opera’s focus away from Greek mythology and towards its four protagonists. Their timeless – and timely – struggles for love and peace, following horrific carnage and destruction, comprise this new piece that premieres here, right now, in Pittsburgh.
“I started playing with the idea of creating afterWARds several years ago, after working on several scenes from ‘Idomeneo’ with students at the Juilliard School. I was riveted by the modernity and uncompromising emotional intensity of the characters and their music. But even more, I was blown away by the extreme, and unusual, relevance of these operatic characters to the world we live in today. Mozart’s opera is set on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, following a long war that caused unprecedented carnage and human hardship. Two of its four protagonists are displaced refugees; the title character is returning home, heavily damaged, from years of war; his teenage son has grown up without a father. All are suffering from post-traumatic stress in very real and very contemporary ways.
“The parallels between ‘Idomeneo,’ set thousands of years ago, and the Syrian refugee crisis afflicting the Mediterranean region today, were unmissable. With thousands of people literally washing up on Greece’s islands, leaving behind their life-vests in search of a better, peaceful life, I did not need to look far to understand not only this opera’s uniqueness, but even more so, its deep importance for our time. Unfortunately, the length and structure of Mozart’s opera has far less in common with our contemporary world than its content. Clocking in at almost four hours, with many large chorus and ballet sequences, ‘Idomeneo’ is not a piece that opera companies produce often, due both to its logistical challenges and modern audiences’ decreasing attention spans.”
Mr. Chin-Loy will sing the title role.
“My character is the king of Crete. The opera begins with a shipwreck. I have just conquered Troy and taken Ilia, the Trojan princess, as my prisoner. On the way back to Crete, there’s a huge storm, and my boat sinks and all my soldiers die in the shipwreck, and I’m the only one to survive. I come back to Crete after having made a vow that the person who rescued Ilia during that shipwreck – who turns out to be Idamante, my son – I’m going to kill. I’m going to kill him because, in this production, he has saved a prisoner I did not value, and not my men who have died all around me. So I vow that when I see this person again, he will pay for what he’s done – not saving my men. And so, tragically and ironically we quickly discover that we are related – that he is my son.”
The company’s Resident Artist productions at the CAPA Auditorium are consistently excellent, and the advance “buzz” sounds as though afterWARds will add another to a well-feathered cap.
Thank you to Pittsburgh Opera. afterWARds will run January 26, January 29; and February 1, February 3. For tickets and more, visit Pittsburgh Opera.
A Pittsburgh native, George B. Parous began his studies of music and the ‘cello in grade school before his interests turned to opera, its performers and history while in his teens. He has been acknowledged as a contributor or editor of several published works (the first being “Rosa Raisa, A Biography of a Diva,” Northeastern University Press, 2001), and is currently working on his own biography of the German-American dramatic soprano, Johanna Gadski, who sang at the Metropolitan during the “Golden Age of Opera.” A retired IT Analyst, he is an avid genealogist, and has traced his maternal line to 8th century Wessex, England. He’s been a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round since 2014.